Category: Arthur Miller
Stage Left’s ‘Enemy’ requires suspension of cynicism
|Stage Left Theatre presents|
|An Enemy of the People|
|Original play by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by Arthur Miller
Directed by Jason Fleece
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
through April 3 | tickets: $22-$28 | more info
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
‘Before many can know it, one must know it.’ Corporate, government, media, medical: which “expert” is most credible to announce an environmental threat? Stage Left Theatre presents An Enemy of the People. The play was originally written in 1882 by Henrik Ibsen and adapted in the 1950’s by Arthur Miller. It’s1959 in Norway. The Institution has capitalized on a vacation hot springs spot. The entire town benefits from tourists seeking a healthy retreat. The doctor at The Institution finds killer bacteria in the water. Delighted over the important scientific discovery, the doctor tells the mayor the deadly risk to the community. The mayor doesn’t have an emergency response. In fact, the mayor believes the real harmful substance isn’t in the water…. it’s his brother. The mayor and the doctor also happen to have a toxic brother relationship. The doctor wants to alert the public to the health risk. The mayor wants to isolate the problem… his brother. It takes a village to avoid a scandal. The town takes sides against a brother. An Enemy of the People is a nostalgic look back at days gone be. It’s the simpler times when elected officials, local newspapers, and spring waters were unquestionably pure.
The premise of the play requires suspension of cynicism. In 2011, Americans drink water out of bottles, scan the Internet for credible media sources, and scrutinize every politician comment for bullshit. The very plot of the play requires a childlike wonder that is difficult to muster. Without it, connecting with the characters is difficult. This particular production never quite successfully bridges the generational gap. Some directorial choices by Jason Fleece makes the flow clunky and artificial. The large cast has some individual standout moments but overall seems disjointed in attempts to come together. In the lead, William J. Watt (Doctor) plays it over-the-top and in-the-face, whining his opinion. Watt seems less like a man of science and more like a spoiled child. In a complete departure from the play’s intention, a sympathy arises for his persecutors.The other brother, Cory Krebsbach (Mayor) plays it much more subtle. Krebsbach is all-politician smooth-talking the town into rallying against medical expertise and their own health. Bringing comic relief, James Eldrenkamp (Aslaksen) is funny ‘in moderation’, Kurt Conroyd (drunk) makes a hysterical spectacle and Sandy Elias (Morton) is a curmudgeon cartoon.
The set, designed by Alan Donahue, has an Ikea-does-cabin-look. It’s all wooden with a strong modern ambiance. Apparently, the middle of the set provides a shadowboxing effect for a mob scene. The audience semi-circles the stage. I was sitting stage right and didn’t observe the dramatic effect.
Back in the day, An Enemy of the People must have raged a war on authority. Today, Americans are continually in conflict with leaders. The evolution of thought to modern times makes the content less profound. This production is somewhere between an enemy and a friend of the people.
An Enemy of the People continues at Theater Wit through April 3rd, with performances Thursdays, Friday, and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Sundays at 2:30pm. Running time is two hours and thirty minutes with a ten minute intermission. Tickets are $22-$28, and can be purchased online or by calling 773-975-8150.
Arthur Miller and the Meaning of Work
by Paige Listerud
Our last video interview with Eclipse Theatre cast members examines their critically acclaimed production of Arthur Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays (our review ★★★). Eclipse has had a superlative season with each successive showing of rarely produced Arthur Miller works. Completing their season, A Memory of Two Mondays won the hearts of many in the Chicago theater community, opening in time for Labor Day. Set in an auto parts warehouse, Miller’s impressionistic one-act cuts to the heart of our dull dissatisfaction with the day-to-day grind, critically exacerbated by worse economic times. How we think about work and our own personal worth strikes to the very core of daily experience of American life.
Joining us is Brandon Ruiter, playing Bert, the young and hopeful lead of the play and Kevin Scott, playing the beleaguered warehouse manager, Raymond. Kevin Scott doubles as Managing Director for Eclipse and intimately knows how the economic stresses of our Great Recession correspond with Miller’s themes. There’s no getting away from our current hard times. But there’s also no getting away from the American Dream, the idea of America against which we measure our individual worth and our hopes for the employment that will help us to reach our dreams.
A Memory of Two Mondays closes October 17 and the last event in their Playwright Scholar series on Arthur Miller happens this Saturday, October 2 (open to the public for a small donation). Enjoy the video and go see the show. Few American playwrights look as plainly and unflinchingly at American life as Miller does. Without adornment or exaggeration, it is enough for him just to go to the heart of the country. A Memory of Two Mondays is his statue in the park for the ordinary working Joe.
Attention Must Be Paid—to the Monday Blues
If I stress the various facets of unhappiness, it is because I believe unhappiness should be studied very carefully . . . This certainly is no time for anyone to pretend to be happy, or to put his unhappiness away in the dark. You must watch your universe as it cracks above your head.
|Eclipse Theatre presents|
|A Memory of Two Mondays|
|Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Steven Fedoruk
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through October 17 | tickets: $25 | more info
Reviewed by Paige Listerud
A Memory of Two Mondays is Arthur Miller’s one-act dirge to the boulevard of broken American dreams. Don’t go to Eclipse Theatre’s production at the Greenhouse Theater Center without reflecting on the rainy days and Monday morning workdays that always get you down. Set in the Great Depression of Miller’s youth, one observes this play’s dysfunctional workplace, set in an automobile parts warehouse, in the complete knowledge that these are the lucky ones. These people have jobs. As dead- end as those jobs may be, as crappy the conditions, and as ineffectual as the management is under a callous boss, a dead-end job is still better than the joblessness that leads one to Hooverville or to standing in bread lines.
Director Steven Fedoruk’s cast sails through the impressionist style of Miller’s script. What a good thing his slight-of-hand control is, since this particular workplace borders on the madhouse. Seen through the eyes of Bert (Brandon Ruiter), a hopeful young man saving up for his college education, all the habits, experiences, idiosyncrasies and neuroses of his co-workers at first seem funny, fascinating, interesting, bizarre or clownish. But soon it becomes clear that the daily grind of meaningless work, rotten conditions, poverty wages, and no real future is getting to everyone.
On top of that, let’s just say the management style for this workplace is extremely loose. Raymond (Kevin Scott) has absolutely no say in who gets hired or fired. Even a raging alcoholic like Tom (Malcolm Callan), who has to be propped up, catatonic, at his desk until he revives, gets a second chance. Meanwhile, the razor-sharp Larry (Josh Venditti), who knows the location of every part in the shop, languishes bitterly without promotion. Those critical decisions remain the province of Mr. Eagle (Joel Reitsma), the absentee business owner. Heaven only knows where he goes golfing while his workers run amok and his business’s infrastructure, slowly but surely, crumbles into dust.
Beyond the insanity of Bert’s work situation, we witness the terrible loss of time, of one’s dreams, one’s mind, and one’s life in this terrible place. For the workers, decades go by in which nothing changes. It’s as if drudgery and inertia have the hypnotic power to hold everyone under a spell. Kenneth (J.P. Pierson), newly arrived from Ireland, is full of poetry, song and culture when Bert first makes friends with him at the warehouse. But through mindless work, hopelessness and the pervasive materialism of American culture he loses it all, like sand draining away.
One could write off each and every one of these characters as losers but Miller won’t allow it. A Memory of Two Mondays is not a great Miller work. It’s a one-act trying to do too much in a small space of time with recurrent Miller themes. It carries potent echoes of Death of a Salesman. “I don’t get it,” mourns Bert, on the verge of leaving for college, “How is it me that gets out? There ought to be a statue in the park. To all the ones that stayed.” Attention must be paid.
Attention must be paid but not to the young hero who leaves for a brighter future. That’s the Billy Elliot story. No. Attention must be paid to those who slog on against horrible odds, whose future is unglamorous, and whose work will never win them a spot in the limelight or public honor. Attention must be paid to people whose work is more essential to building a nation than a politician’s career or a pop star’s brief fame.
Miller’s watchful eye is always on the fear, the desperation, and the blighted potential that are the dark side of the American Dream. But more often than not he watches, not with an eye of criticism, but with an eye of compassion.
Hurry! Only 4 more chances to see “After the Fall”!!
Cutting Close to the Bone:
A conversation about Arthur Miller’s After the Fall
by Paige Listerud
After the Fall is Arthur Miller’s most personal play. He exposes the implosion of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, set off by addiction, driven by the demons of childhood sexual abuse and Hollywood exploitation. It’s a play in which Miller acknowledges his own failed attempts to save her from any of it. In the play, Miller’s persona, Quentin (Nat Swift), marvels at and abhors the sexual fascination that Maggie (Nora Fiffer), Monroe’s persona, casts over men—a power that makes her vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation. But even as he attempts to protect her, he acknowledges his own culpability and morally compromised state in succumbing to her bombshell beauty and erotic, childlike nature.
After the first production of After the Fall, taking place one year after Monroe’s death, Arthur Miller was savaged in the press for exploiting his wife. But the play really is a purge and cathartic release of all sorts for Miller. Of all his works, After the Fall cuts closest to the bone. Furthermore it’s a play that covers other purges and other morally compromised states—such as America’s purge of communists, fellow travelers, and other leftist thinkers during the McCarthy Era. It was an era in which the outrageous accusations of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) met with collusion by some fearful Americans, ready to surrender names in order to save their careers, while other fearful Americans maintained their silence about McCarthy’s witch hunt under the peer pressure of Loyalty Oaths.
It was an era for all sorts of moral compromise—not something that Miller’s intelligent and incredibly moral protagonist Quentin can live with very well. If you want to know how Eclipse Theatre has done one of Miller’s most cinematic and impressionistic works, you can now read an array of critical acclaim from the Chicago theater press. (You can also see our in-depth review here ★★★½). As for diving even deeper into the challenges of rendering this difficult play so well, enjoy our video interview below. Then get thee to Eclipse Theatre before the production closes.
When an intellectual looks for love in all the wrong places
|Eclipse Theatre presents|
|After the Fall|
|Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Steve Scott
at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through August 22nd | tickets: $25 | more info
reviewed by Paige Listerud
Arthur Miller just wants to be loved. Is that so wrong? After the Fall, the play that is his sojourn through love’s conundrums and dead ends, bears Miller’s soul for all to see at Eclipse Theatre’s home, the Greenhouse Theater Center. Miller’s devastating marriage to Marilyn Monroe, inextricably intertwined with our country’s descent into paranoid McCarthyism (and Miler’s dealings with this paranoia), really did a number on his head. Shortly afterward, no doubt, the demise of Marilyn herself really, really did a number on his head. The result is After the Fall.
What does one do about conscious or unconscious betrayals—of the heart or of one’s principles? How does one go on after love has died and disillusionment has almost totally taken over? These seem to be the greatest moral pre-occupations for After the Fall’s excessively intellectual protagonist, Quentin (Nathaniel Swift).
But, wait. Perhaps to judge his intellectualism as excessive is a dumbed-down way of looking at him. Arthur Miller flourished in an era when America had many public intellectuals. Those intellectuals were disciplined to constantly interrogate the state of our nation’s cultural and civic life. Now, in the place of public intellectuals, we have talking-point-addled pundits and reality TV show celebrities. In terms of intellectual expression in American civic life, we have become a very cheap date.
Therefore, Quentin’s conundrums may not exactly be ours, whether they are about maintaining a pristine conscience in the middle of fallible human interactions or taking on overwhelming personal responsibility, to the point of seeing the roots of the Holocaust in one’s minute personal betrayals. Quentin suffers from serious survivor guilt. No doubt about it, the man is a survivor—not of the Holocaust per se, but certainly the McCarthy Era.
Apparently, surviving the McCarthy Era can take a lot out of you. As a Quixotic leftist lawyer, tilting against the onslaught of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Quentin is surviving the purge of leftists from American academia, from American media, from the everyday workplace. Indeed, he is surviving the purge of leftists from American thought. But try as he may, the friends he is trying to save are going down.
Quentin is prepared to defend Lou, his old Communist academic buddy—played with spot-on geeky anxiety by Eustace Allen. Lou is a man on the verge–on the verge of having his career decimated, his livelihood pulled out from under him like a magician’s trick. Other lefty friends, like Mickey (Eric Leonard), are ready to cave into HUAC and surrender names. Meanwhile, Lou’s wife, Elsie (Nina O’Keefe), salaciously comes on to Quentin with Lou not far away and further scenes reveal her to be nothing less than a sexual menace–a menace O’Keefe delivers with just one look.
Quentin is discovering, to his uncomprehending shock, his friends’ morally compromised natures. Even Lou admits to espousing lies in his academic work on the Communist Party. Lou’s book was received well enough during America’s World War II alliance with the Soviet Union but now the whole thing is crashing down upon him.
Amid all this, Quentin’s marriage is souring and failing like all his other relationships. Amid the ruined lives, the cynical hypocrisy of colleagues distancing themselves from Joe McCarthy’s victims–amid self-compromise at every turn—why can’t our hero get a little love?
Quentin’s wife, Louise (Julie Daley), seems to have nothing more to give. Daley’s tight and sharp portrayal of Louise is by turns both sympathetic and bitterly judgmental. We hear the voice of “The Feminine Mystique” when Louise complains that Quentin doesn’t listen to her, only uses her as a sounding board for his own intellect. But we also hear an older, more Puritanical voice in her petty accusations that he finds other women sexually attractive. He has never slept with any other woman and feels guilty feeling attraction to women other than Louise, but Louise sees his straying sexual thoughts as infidelity and she holds them against him, just as she withholds sex from his attempts to ameliorate the growing distance between them.
There are more painful scenes to watch in After the Fall, but close in the running are Quentin and Louise’s arguments. They are an accurate depiction of two highly intellectual people so lost in their heads they can no longer open up emotionally. Problems that other couples would solve with a good argument, then a good fuck, Quentin and Louise cannot even negotiate without an interpreter. Perhaps divorce is the only thing, since they can’t generate the sexual interest necessary to get over ideological disagreements or personal flaws. What must have seemed like the ideal match in college has turned into a prison for them both.
Perhaps what Quentin needs is a more free-flowing sexual spirit, a woman with a sensual orientation, a woman who lives in the eternal now–maybe a woman who is the sex symbol of the age, like Marilyn Monroe. But it’s grossly unfair to write off Nora Fiffer’s interpretation of Maggie as a Marilyn Monroe imitation. Fiffer takes the role and makes it thoroughly her own. Any inflections she borrows from Monroe make her performance purely impressionistic and entirely original. One can know everything about Monroe’s life and still see Maggie up there on the stage.
The marriage between Miller and Monroe has always seemed like an improbable match; the marriage between Quentin and Maggie, far more realistic. Part of this is Swift’s youthful, corporate, Everyman appeal but another part is Miller’s psychologically acute take on Quentin. If divorce and disillusionment have upset Quentin’s apple cart and dumped him into the realm of uncertainty, then he is starting over almost as new and green as Maggie in her burgeoning singing career.
But Maggie still belongs to a younger, more rebellious, more sexual generation–the 50s generation of Marlon Brando and James Dean. Monroe, Brando, and Dean emerged just a beat before the Sexual Revolution of the 60s, but that didn’t make them any less rarin’ to go. After the Fall’s Maggie anticipates the qualities of the Boomer generation; sexual openness and adventurousness, full embodiment of a “be here now” attitude, childlike narcissism and arrogance, and a propensity to succumb to drug abuse—although it’s just good, old-fashioned alcohol and barbiturates that drag Maggie and her marriage into hell. Quentin really has gotten in over his head with this one.
Watching Swift and Fiffer play out this doomed pair’s degeneration is like watching two perfectly matched martial artists having it out in the ring. Theirs is a confrontation that could easily slip into the clichés of “Days of Wine and Roses” or a million other addiction dramas, but Scott’s direction keeps their battle taut and economical. Eclipse’s production should sell out for their Second Act scene alone.
Happily, the production doesn’t need to rest on two leads. Quentin’s progress through time and memory is an actor’s Iron Man marathon and Swift stays the course, receiving absolute support from the impeccable cast surrounding him. Cast cohesion is no small feat in an impressionistic and cinematic drama based solely on memory and yearning, but hold together they do. Their characters are the skeletal bones of Quentin’s memory and hold the keys to unraveling his perpetual guiltiness. Guilty memory, especially regret over not being able to save Lou or Maggie, has its claws deep into Quentin—to the point where one wonders whether he has more of a love affair with guilt than he could ever have with any woman.
Is that the cornerstone of Miller’s heart—thoroughly Jewish and unceasing guilt? One might consider Quentin’s survivor’s guilt almost pathological; its presence balanced only by the solid family team of Mother (Susan Monts-Bologna), Father (Jerry Bloom) and brother Dan (Joe McCauley). In them one awakens to Quentin’s ethnic roots, as well as his parent’s survivor’s instinct in the face of the Crash of 1929. Quentin supposes he got his instinct from his Mother, rendered by Monts-Bologna with crafty intelligence and comic intensity. Rather than being able to own it, it’s just another thing that makes him feel guilty.
But the truth is that everyone in Quentin’s family can be called a survivor—certainly of the Crash and of any other personal or political disasters that came afterwards. One is always a survivor, at least until one dies. The real question is if life is still worth living after everything else—including justice, love, and principle—has completely fallen apart. Not to diminish After the Fall as being one, big, Jewish survivor’s guilt fest, but the Holocaust is the play’s constant specter, even in scenes when it is never alluded to. Quentin finally finds another love interest in Holga (Sally Eames-Harlan) because she can confirm for him that no one who survived the Holocaust was innocent. Perhaps more than love itself, he needs another survivor to show him how to go on. It’s his final acknowledgment of his need that makes his survival noble.